Went to Wellington last week and took my daughter to Te Papa for her school holidays.
Had the opportunity to go to the Gallipoli exhibit to see how we mark momentous events that are beyond our social imagination and day to day community lived experience.
It was. Sadly. What I expected.
I’ve always felt we are a petty and socially awkward people, ground down by insecurities and a cultural shallowness that revels in the unsophisticated. We mistake that revelry as being laid back when it’s really a gleeful anti-intellectualism.
I mean The Project manages to find an entire room full of visitors who are prepared to watch their show live each evening and nothing heralds cosmopolitan crucifixion quite like The Project.
Well, maybe The AM Show.
When we book burn, it’s done leisurely around a BBQ.
I appreciate the difficulty for a juvenile country with all the maturity of a can of day old coke to reflect with any insight on its own culture. We only recently managed to recognise the tyranny at Parihaka 140 years after it took place, so attempting to bring comprehension to a brutal war where the youngest and brightest of our nation were butchered in what was us invading another country was always going to be an enormous ask we simply can’t carry out yet.
We are unable to be honest about the signing of the Treaty, so World War One was always going to be a beach too far. Figuratively and literally.
Sure, it’s got all the Weta Workshop geekery, with cool examples of how different types of ammunition maim the human body. It has the fetish of war re-enactments perfectly constructed down to the tiniest detail, but it avoided the grim stupidity of the war, the meaninglessness of the sacrifice and what exactly we have learnt from it.
Then there are the huge sculptures, stuck in a moment minus the context, minus the noise of war, minus the horror.
Frozen seconds on which to project vacant suburban meaning into.
I wondered how the glorious dead would feel knowing the violence that stole their lives ended up being some grim amusement park of war where over awed tourists tried to remain solemn for a thing they didn’t really understand.
Like wide eyed sheep passing through the Louvre.
It’s an important exhibit to attend because it shows us how far we have yet to go in being honest about our history and being able to distill truth and wisdom from that honesty.
I feel we have yet to understand the message the dead groan at us from the grave.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved, and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe To you from failing hands we throw The torch, be yours to hold it high If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.